Finding Inspiration in Public Gardens … The Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts…
Above, The Bridge of Flowers viewed from the bank of the Deerfield River. Â Below, a gravel path leads through The Bridge of Flowers in June…
Visiting public gardens has become something of a luxury for me over the past few years. I am a professional gardener and designer, and the busiest season in my line of work tends to be in the spring and early summer. Like most gardeners, any spare hours I have at this time of year tend to be spent in my own backyard. Sometime over the course of this past winter, as I was pouring over gardening books and magazines, I realized how much I miss visiting public gardens. How did I forget what a pleasure it is to take in a garden for which I am not responsible? Â This year, I resolved thatÂ visits to both public and private gardens would become part of my weekly schedule. By stepping away from my own garden, and the gardens under my care, I am able to return to the places I create with fresh eyes. Whether you are just starting your first garden, or editing one you have tended for years, visiting other gardens is a great way to stir up your creativity and continue your horticultural education.
My first garden visit this spring was to Â The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. This one-of-a-kind design was conceived by Antoinette and Walter Burnham in 1929 when they envisioned a public garden crossing an abandoned, 400-foot trolley bridge built in 1908. The Shelburne Falls Woman’s Club took on the bridge of flowers project, and remains the steward of this beautiful garden to this day. Â The Bridge of Flowers spans the Deerfield river and connects the towns of Buckland and Shelburne. Over 500 different varieties of annuals, perennials, shrubs, vines and trees are included in this unusual and beloved public landmark.
This was not my first visit to this special place. I have been enjoying The Bridge of Flowers on and off since I was a little girl, and I have watched as both this garden and the village of Shelburne Falls have evolved over time. Through the years the garden has grown more beautiful and sophisticated, and yet it has never lost its calm, relaxing simplicity. The Bridge of Flowers is home to some spectacular plants; including trees, shrubs and vines. Among the stand-out woody specimens on the bridge is a cascading hemlock (tsuga canadensis, pendula), (spectacular when viewed from the Buckland side riverbank), a lovely Japanese snowbell, (styrax japonica), a pair of gnarly-trunked wisteria floribunda, a very fragrant butterfly bush, (buddleia alternifolia), an enviable climbing hydrangea,(hydrangea petiolaris), and a number of glorious rambling and climbing roses ranging in hue from red to purest white.
The mixed borders on either side of the walkway crossing The Bridge of Flowers are in continual bloom from early spring through fall. The gardens are beautifully designed and meticulously tended by a professional head gardener, assistant gardeners and volunteers. Modern additions, such as ornamental grass and exotic Asian introductions are creatively combined with old-time cottage garden favorites and ecologically minded native-plants. Shrub roses are interspersed throughout the design, adding a bit of Â classic beauty and fragrance to the early summer display. On my recent visit, the beautiful David Austin rose, ‘Ambridge’, was all aglow in a luminous peachy-wash of color; it’s alluring, near-intoxicating fragrance filling the damp air and leading me down the path.
The color harmonies and textural combinations seem particularly beautiful this year on the bridge. I admire the creativity of these gardeners, working with a limited budget raised by donations and gifts. They have created such simple, dynamic vignettes; playing with focal points of saturated color and repeating the rhythm with subtle echos running through neighboring selections. Stunning, yet un-forced combinations abound along the walkway. Golden hued petals of baptisia playing off yellow edged ornamental grass, and deep rose-traced peonies enhanced by a blooming backdrop of spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’, are some examples of their thoughtful garden design.
As my stroll though the garden concluded on the Shelburne side of the bridge, I was pleased to discover the development of the shade garden. A wide variety of plants now thrive in the dappled light at this tree lined end of walkway. Gorgeous perennials, including many with dramatic foliage color and varied texture, create a quiet conclusion to the garden along the water’s edge. Delicate ferns, bold hosta, feathery goat’s beard, (aruncus), and shimmering, smooth leaved ginger, (asarum), are among the inspired plantings.
The Bridge of Flowers is wonderful inspiration for gardeners of all ages.Â According to the website, the bridge receives over 20,000 visitors each year from all over the world.Â This beautiful garden will always have a special place in my heart, and clearly I am not alone in my infatuation. Although the garden is at it’s peak now, it is worth keeping in mind that come autumn, the vibrant fall foliage reflected in this river setting is truly spectacular. The village of Shelburne Falls has much to offer visitors, including natural sites, such as the glacial potholes, artisan shops and galleries, (from glass blowing and pottery to candle making), fine restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops and more. A visit to The Bridge of Flowers and the village of Shelburne Falls is a great day trip from Boston, MA, Keene NH, or Hartford, CT. Â What a great place to start my summer garden tours this year! Â A great, big thank you goes out Â to the gardeners at the bridge and to all of the kind donors and visitors supporting The Bridge of Flowers with generous financial contributions.
For further information about The Bridge of Flowers, please visit the website HERE, and for infomation about other attractions in the village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, visit their website HERE.
View up the river…
View down the path on the bridge…
A last look at the beautiful bridge of flowers setting…
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Article and photos copyright 2009 Michaela H.